Original image: The Knowles Gallery
Vamp Till Dead
Starring: Ginger Rogers
Originally aired: 11 January 1951
[Another version of this story, starring Vanessa Brown, aired 29 September 1957]
Plot synopsis: A woman who suspects her writer brother-in-law of murdering her sister seeks to uncover the truth by taking a job working for him as his private secretary.
Favourite line: 'His writing seemed to go from bad to worse - the stories were twisted, perverse, distorted studies in human behavior: the women were inevitably deceitful, the men tortured and driven to insane rages.'
Review: This episode is much better than its pulpy title suggests (in fact, it's somewhat baffling why the story bears the title that it does, as is it does not fit the plot particularly well, and Ginger Rogers' character is not really a 'vamp'). The tale shares themes in common with a couple of Hitchcock films, Rebecca (based, of course, on a Daphne Du Maurier novel) and Vertigo, since it similarly concerns a female character who is compared throughout to a dead woman, and because the latter's death occurred in mysterious circumstances. What's interesting about this episode is that Rogers' character is neither weak nor passive - as, to varying degrees, are the two female leads in Rebecca and Vertigo - but driven and determined (even if the label vamp is a misnomer). The psychology of the piece is also fascinating as the heroine, in an attempt to drive the husband she believes guilty of murder to give himself away, increasingly adopts the looks and behaviour of her own sister. Indeed, the lengths to which Rogers' character is prepared to go to expose her brother-in-law are quite startling; and the relationship she develops with the man who is, after all, her dead sister's former husband, is unusual to say the least. All this makes for a gripping, intriguing episode, with some strange undercurrents. Mention should also be made of Rogers' strong performance, which shows that she was capable of much more than the light and breezy roles for which she was most famous.
Rating: * * * *
Variations on a Theme
Starring: Parley Baer
Originally aired: 7 February 1956
Plot synopsis: A man who is fed up with his wife's constant nagging stashes her, bound and gagged, in a trunk - with the intention of dropping it into a lake.
Favourite line: 'Don't be so nervous, Herman! Goodness, you make a body nervous being so nervous.'
Review: This episode's story is a pretty unpleasant one. It has also dated badly. The plot centres on a man who wishes to kill his wife, but the episode seems to expect the audience to sympathize with him, rather than her, because she is - or, at least, is presented as - an overbearing nag. This is why the episode feels very old-fashioned, and quite mean-spirited, especially when the couple's children are introduced, and join in with their father's character assassination of the woman. Yet the final nail in the story's coffin is that - SPOILER ALERT! - it has a terrible ending. This amounts to little more than 'it was all just a daydream', which renders most of what came before meaningless. Poor.
Very Much Like a Nightmare
Starring: Dennis O'Keefe
Originally aired: 25 May 1950
Plot synopsis: A man falls asleep at work after accidentally taking a sleeping pill, and when he wakes up to discover that it is night-time, he finds himself in the middle of a burglary.
Favourite line: 'Aside from an aversion to little white pills and a tendency to sneak frequent looks at his watch along about closing time each day, that husband is reputed to have only the normal number of faults.'
Review: At the beginning of this episode, it seems as if it is going to be a tale warning against the perils of drug abuse, but it soon turns out that the scenes concerning the main character's overuse of the medication he has been taking are simply to provide a set-up for a not very exciting story about a workplace robbery. There's nothing especially wrong with the story, but at the same time, nor is there anything particularly right with it. This is the kind of episode that leaves very little impression on the mind once you've finished listening to it, so deserves to be rated as decidedly mediocre.
Rating: * *
Vial of Death
Starring: Lloyd Nolan
Originally aired: 18 May 1953
Plot synopsis: A race against time to find a stolen vial of cholera that if not found could cause a mass epidemic.
Favourite line: 'Can you visualize this happening all over the city - your wife, possibly your children?'
Review: Fast-paced and exciting, this episode offers enough moments of nail-biting tension to keep listeners engaged from start to finish. Indeed, I thoroughly enjoyed it, finding myself increasingly involved with the hunt for the 'vial of death', as the characters frantically hurry from one dead end to another. The conclusion, too, is strong, with the story arriving at a clever final location for the vial. At the same time, the plot doesn't bear too much thinking about, as it contains a number of implausibilities. Foremost among these is the incredible negligence of the scientist who loses the vial - he simply leaves the container holding the deadly bacteria unattended in his car! Were scientists at the time really so irresponsible? (Another Suspense episode that suggests that they were, featuring as it does the extreme carelessness of another scientist with a lethal substance, is Experiment 6-R.) It's also amazing that the police do not seem to think to inform the federal government - especially the CDC (the Communicable Diseases Center as it then was) - but treat the possibility of a major cholera outbreak as a purely local matter. Nor do they even consider getting themselves vaccinated until the search for the missing vial is well under way, and they have potentially been exposed a number of times; surely they would want to do so at the very start! Overall, though, great fun.
Rating: * * *
The Victoria Cross
Starring: Herbert Marshall
Originally aired: 2 November 1950
Plot synopsis: A house master at an English public school is blackmailed by one of his pupils, after the latter learns the dark secret he wishes to keep hidden.
Favourite line: 'And as I looked into each darkened room and listened to the sounds of sleep, I wondered: if I could at this moment give each boy an insight into his future, and the tragedies lying before him, granted the power, how many would choose to wake in the morning, and how many would choose never to awake again?'
Review: I didn't expect a great deal from this episode in the light of its title - which refers to the highest British military honour that can be awarded - and after listening to the opening scene, assuming it was going to be some standard fare about war and heroism. However, I was proved wrong by what turns out to be a terrific story, with a great deal to recommend it. Herbert Marshall gives an excellent performance in the central role, as an ex-soldier turned public school house master with a mysterious secret, but the rest of the cast is also accomplished, including the actors playing the two main pupils. The plot is well-constructed, taking in deception, betrayal and murder, and keeps the listener wanting to find out what happens next. The episode's most important theme concerns honour: it is at the heart of the inner turmoil of the 'war hero' protagonist, who struggles to hold on to his; it shapes the actions of the pupil who sees the house master as his only friend; and it propels the plot thanks to the school bully's utter lack of it. Also very interesting is the way the Victoria Cross is used in the story - the medal itself doesn't feature very prominently, but is instead there in the background throughout as a powerful symbolic presence. The only real negative here is that, in places, the dramatic music is quite overbearing, to the extent that it almost drowns out the final few lines. Regardless, this is a suspenseful, compelling and well-written episode.
Rating: * * * *